August 21, 2010

Eido Shimano Roshi and Zen Studies Society in the Times

Mark Oppenheimer covers the Eido Shimano Roshi story in The New York Times. He begins:

Sooner or later, every traditional faith has to confront sexual impropriety by its spiritual leaders: extramarital sex, or sex with the wrong people (members of the congregation, minors) or, for supposedly celibate clergy, any sex at all.

But there are great differences in how religions handle these transgressions. For Jews and many Protestants, it is the local congregation that decides what sins are too great to countenance, and what kind of discipline is needed. For Roman Catholics, a worldwide hierarchy decides, depending on reports from local representatives. And for Buddhists — well, the answer is not so clear.

The root of the problem, some experts say, is that the teacher/student relationship in Buddhism has no obvious Western analogy. Priests and rabbis know the boundaries, even if some do not always respect them. Doctors, too, have ethical canons they are supposed to honor. A spiritual figure like a priest, an authority figure like a teacher, a therapeutic figure like an analyst — the Buddhist teacher may be all of those, but is not really like any one of them. Even sanghas, or Buddhist communities, that discourage such relationships often have no process for enforcing a ban, and as one Zen society in New York is learning, that can lead to problems.

As to why all this came out now, when rumors had been circulating for years, Oppenheimer writes:

First, this more recent affair occurred in a different news media culture. Clerical impropriety is a hot topic, of course. And on the Internet, where several bloggers were scrutinizing the Aitken papers, the new affair was sure to be mentioned. “The Internet was turning the heat up,” one member said.

Tricycle's editor, James Shaheen, and former Senior Editor Clark Strand are quoted in the article.

This matter has been discussed previously on this blog: a press release from Zen Studies Society on August 19th, a statement from the ZSS Board on July 19th, and our coverage of the changes in the ZSS Ethical Guidelines (hat tip to Smiling Buddha Cabaret) on July 16th.

UPDATE: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 24, 2010

The Beliefs column on Saturday, about Buddhist leaders who addressed a sex scandal, referred incorrectly to a 1990 article by Katy Butler, a journalist, titled “Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America.” Ms. Butler did not describe Richard Baker, the abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center during the 1970s and 1980, as an alcoholic. She was comparing patterns of behavior by his followers to patterns of enabling behavior of relatives of alcoholics.

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Anonymous's picture

"It’s like having sex with your boss for a promotion (except a Zen teacher can’t give you a spiritual promotion, but many people dont know that.)"

I'm sure transmission has been offered.

Olivia's picture

Today was 10 10 10 It made history as having the greatest number of people and organizations across the planet uniting to bring awareness to issues of climate change.

I discovered this at the website "ECOLOGICAL BUDDHISM: A Buddhist Response to Climate Change"

Here's a quote on that site from one of the signers of the Shimano Resignation Petition.

"The Bodhisattva precepts boil down to one essential principle: not to live at the expense of other beings........When I recognize that my life and everything in it has been freely given to me, how can I deny this gift to all other beings, and to the planet itself? Take only what one needs and allow all things to be free and fully themselves."

And from Robert Aitken Roshi at the same website (I believe he was on of the founding members):

"Something, certainly. Our practice of the Brahma Viharas—kindness, compassion, goodwill and equanimity would be meaningless if it excluded people, animals, and plants outside our formal Sangha. Nothing in the teachings justifies us as a cult that ignores the world. We are not survivalists. On the contrary, it is clear that we’re in it together with all beings."

Doing my part for today, and it's highly relevant here.

Sharon's picture

Its not right to have sex with a therapist, because the patient is emotionally vulnerable. It's similar with a zen teacher. You put yourself in an emotionally vulnerable position when you trust him. If the zen teacher says "you have to do this to get enlightenment" (as one example) and someone is new to Zen Buddhism, they may not know better. It's the power imbalance that makes it a problem. People can get hurt. It's like having sex with your boss for a promotion (except a Zen teacher can't give you a spiritual promotion, but many people dont know that.) Not to mention that as a monk, you take certain vows one of which is celibacy. To break that is like akin to lying, if not worse. You are making a farce out of your whole Dharma practice when you break a vow that is so basic. Better to admit it, disrobe and stop teaching. Otherwise you are harming the Dharma and sangha and you are being dishonest.

nevermind's picture

And what about the taking money from a drug lord? And having that man become his Dharma Heir (heck, the money was good)? And that Dharma Heir dealing drugs at DBZ imperiling the entire holdings of the zen studies society? What about that Heir acting as a custodian of a convicted drug user/pusher in lieu of a prison term? Send him to a Buddhist monastery pleaded his mother so he winds up with Junpo, king drug lord who went to prison in CA as his parole officer! And Junpo all along giving acid to 'his' students at the time the young man was there? What a farce. Time for this to be investigated. Maybe the Blind Boards would have thought twice if they thought the DEA could confiscate all the properties if they learned of the drug situation. The whole thig is so disgusting I feel I need to wash my MIND out with soap.

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steve har's picture


Saw your comments of yours on another Buddhist blog and now noticing your words here.

Congrats to those who confront?
Nothing is holy or sacred in what way?
What ARE you speaking of?

Is that so, what you say?

Where do you get these congratulations you dispense in so off-handed a way?

What is the source of your scornful rectitude when you ride into the midst of suffering to opine like a computer screen fundamentalist parsing stones from rice and sheep from goats?

Ever been close to suffering NOT on your computer screen but in the life of another or your own?

Wondering if you've tried truth and reconciliation after the breakdown is found, ever tried to heal the sick, feed the hungry; ever tried to cast out your own suffering, ever recognized your own confusion, aversion, addiction, looked it in the eye and started fresh again with loving kindness for yourself and compassion for others?


I commend DH Lawrence to your attention:

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species--

Presentable, eminently presentable--
shall I make you a present of him?

Isn't he handsome? Isn't he healthy? Isn't he a fine specimen?
Doesn't he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn't it God's own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn't you like to be like that, well off, and quite the

Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another
man's need,
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life
face him with a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new
demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species--


Good thing he isn't talking about Americans, Buddhists you and me, tramping after weaknesses, suffering & failure on the computer screen don't you think?

So, Sabio, got any 1st hand experience here?
Maybe what we have here is "a failure to communicate".

Sabio Lantz's picture

Congrats for all those who confront this stuff when it comes up! Buddhism is not holy, it need not be protected. Nothing is holy or sacred in that way.